What seemed to be possible as the regular season opened and became probable as the first nine games played out was finally confirmed Thursday morning: Olli Maatta will stay with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
As announced by general manager Ray Shero, the 19-year-old Finnish-born defenseman will not be sent back to his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League and will instead remain in Pittsburgh. Because of Maatta’s age and an agreement between the NHL and the Canadian junior leagues, he could not be sent to the Penguins’ AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
That means Maatta, for better or worse, has to stay on the NHL roster for the duration of the season, triggering the first year of his entry-level contract. While certainly the Penguins would’ve loved to have cost certainty on Maatta a little bit longer, his crisp play this month proved to the organization he could handle the work load at the highest level of the sport.
Maatta, who played for the OHL’s London Knights and former NHL star Dale Hunter last season, was a first-round pick of the Penguins in the 2012 NHL Draft at Consol Energy Center. Taken at No. 22 overall, Maatta has developed quickly into a reliable pro-caliber left-shooting blueliner with some offensive flair.
He has put up a goal and two assists in nine games for the Penguins this season, mostly skating in tandem with fellow youngster Robert Bortuzzo. However, Maatta was alongside veteran Matt Niskanen for much of Wednesday’s team practice, indicating that perhaps Pittsburgh intended to keep its burgeoning talent beyond the nine-game tryout period.
With the Pens set to host the New York Islanders on Friday, a decision had to be made imminently. Now, Maatta can settle in with the knowledge he’ll be getting a high level of instruction while contributing to one of the NHL’s top teams. It has to be a dream come true, but the difficult part is set to begin.
Notes: Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Penguins have placed forward Beau Bennett on the injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 12. Also, fellow forward Jayson Megna has been recalled from the AHL. The 23-year-old Megna has never played an NHL game.